Art by Picasso and close friend Cocteau brings £500,000 at Bonhams

A collection of important artworks by the French poet, filmmaker, playwright and novelist, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) made a remarkable £355,000 at Bonhams in London, yesterday (September 23).

The collection, of which 90% sold by value, was brought together by the late business tycoon and founder of Gucci timepieces, Severin Wunderman (1939-2008).

Just an hour earlier, a selection of prints, ceramics and silver by the artistic master of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, brought a total of £220,812 with 85% sold by value.

Picasso: "Cocteau was the tail of my comet"

Cocteau met Picasso in 1915 and the pair remained close friends for nearly 50 years. Their artistic relationship can be characterised by two comments...

According to Arnaud, Picasso was "forever at the heart of Cocteau's creative pantheon", while Picasso was once heard to comment that "Cocteau is the tail of my comet."

Joueur de flute et Cavalier, a plate by Picasso from the mid-1950s

Highlights of the Picasso sale were two silver plates that he designed in the mid 1950s.

Joueur de flute et Cavalier brought £21,600 (over its estimate of £10,000 - 15,000) and Dormeur sold for £19,200 (over its £10,000 - 15,000 estimate). Meanwhile, the highest selling ceramic was a platter entitled Tête de chèvre de profil (£12,000) and the top selling print was Le Cavalier (£6,240).   

"Art is not a pastime, but a priesthood"

The best-seller in the Cocteau sale was Jeune Fille de Milly, 1951, which was painted at the house Cocteau bought with Jean Marais in Milly-la-Foret in 1947. It sold for £48,000 against a pre-sale estimate of £8,000 - 12,000.

Top prices were also paid for Les Gémeaux, which made £15,600 (estimate £7,000 - 10,000); Le Clown au Chapeau Rouge, which sold for £14,400 (estimate £5,000 - 7,000); and Portrait of Pablo Picasso, which made £10,800.

Although famous for his films (Beauty and the Beast, 1946, Orpheus, 1949), novels (Les Enfants Terribles, 1929) and plays (Le Bel Indifferent, 1940), Cocteau also produced thousands of artworks in his lifetime, in part because he found art therapeutic.

Picasso's ceramic artwork Tête de chèvre de profil

Working in a variety of mediums, from ceramics to oils and pastels, he commented: "Art is not a pastime but a priesthood."

Using a range of celebrity friends as subjects, from artists and writers, such as Picasso, Jean Hugo and Guillaume Apollinaire, to stars of the theatrical world including Diaghilev, Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf, his ironic caricatures give a snapshot of the best of early 20th century artistic output that revolved around Cocteau and his circle.

They also provided amusement to many, including Coco Chanel who suggested he turn his hand to fashion design.

The world's largest collector of works by Jean Cocteau

Wunderman was his biggest fan and is considered to have been the world's largest collector of works by Jean Cocteau. He kept the majority in his Cote D'Azur chateau which included a suite in which the entire sitting area and bedroom were covered from floor to ceiling in the artist's drawings.

The highest-selling Cocteau painting was Jeune Fille de Milly, 1951

In 2004 Wunderman was honoured with the title of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac, for his cultural and philanthropic work.

Proceeds from the Jean Cocteau sale go to the Severin Wunderman Family Foundation, a charity that supports research into incurable diseases.


Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock